Famed for it's unique partnership approach to retail, few shops have fared as well as John Lewis in the recent retail downturn – but we have noticed some worrying trends at the nations' favourite department store.
An afternoon shopping at John Lewis used to be a pleasurable experience with well thought out displays that showcase the goods in a way that allows customers to look and feel the items before they buy. A store stocked with well chosen items that cater to the tastes of the John Lewis customer, with a pricing policy that leaves you with the knowledge that you are always getting the best price on brand items and a no quibble exchange policy all backed up by helpful, genuinely interested and enthusiasic staff that know the products in their area and are able to give sound practical advice without trying to 'value add' or 'up sell' in the conversation.
Unfortunately, the experience described above seems to be evaporating at an alarming rate. The staff – the owners of John Lewis – are their best asset, we wonder if they are happy with the changes that have taken place in their stores?
Value range – no thank you!
What on earth are they thinking. Customers shop at John Lewis for the range and choice of quality brand items. If customers want cheap and cheerful non-branded goods and small appliances, they would shop for those at the supermarkets or discount stores. Also, who at John Lewis thought their customers would be attracted to the lurid basic packaging?
Pile em high!
What is going on with the shop displays? Rather than showcasing the items, the shelves seem to be crammed with stock. The lower shelves now seem to be exclusively overloaded with boxed up items - all of which seem to have been opened by previous shoppers, calling into question whether parts are missing or the item is damaged.
The worst offending areas for over stacking the goods in the store are the china, glass, tableware and linen departments. They are rapidly starting to look like a cross between a jumble sale and a Marrakech street market.
What happened with taking a ticket and having the sales assistant fetch the item from the stock room (or have it sent to customer collection) whilst you enjoy the rest of your shopping or a quick sit down and a cup of tea? In fact, more often these days, staff seem to suggest that all the stock they have is on the shop floor and are unable to find anything if it isn't already on display.
The suggested alternative options are either to use their 'Click and Collect' service, but then you need to return at a later date to pick up your item, or have them order the item which will invariably take longer. We believe customers want to be able to buy the item whilst they are in-store without the need to return and collect at a later date.
There seems to be little space set aside to showcase innovation or new design ideas. Customers are looking for the latest designs and fashions, not an experience akin to an out dated Habitat store – we know what happened to them.
No, not the customers, we mean the product buyers at John Lewis.
One of the games we like to play is who can spot the items that will be in the next clearance sale. We are often correct, so how do the stock buyers get it so wrong? People shop for products at John Lewis because they are prepared to pay a bit more for a quality items that last a lifetime. They should not wasting floor space with items you could buy in your local retail parks.
For instance, we believe buying electrical items at John Lewis is all about the choice, pricing and ability to compare a whole range of branded items and allow the customer to make a final informed decision. We have noticed in the white goods and kitchen equipment department the product range is becoming overloaded with own-brand equivalents. Whilst they undoubtedly do the job, most John Lewis customers are looking to invest in a brand with a proven track record when they make their purchase. Often high-end brands are a lifestyle choice and John Lewis needs to remember this if they want to retain their existing customers.
The TV section is fantastic, but innovation and cutting edge items seem to take forever to make their way into other areas. For example, John Lewis must be one of the biggest suppliers of the SONOS sound system in the UK, but they don't have the latest base speaker component on display in their store, yet it is available on their website.
When it comes to range, there are problems in the lighting department too. For example, if you want a lamp shade, this is fine as long as you only want to choose from white, a few pastel shades and a couple of earthy colours.
John Lewis now seems to only stock the items that will sell, rather than those that will inspire and delight.
They are now mainstream and no longer the trend-setting store they once were.
The good news is their staff is still their best asset. Initially we had some concerns that departments seemed to have been combined and this might affect the expertise of the staff, however the staff who work in these areas do seem to be knowledgeable on the items for sale in this relatively new setup and they are always happy to give advice or assist when approached. Somehow, unlike many other stores, they also seem to get the balance right between being around and willing to help without intruding or constantly asking if assistance is required.
Time to change
Don't get us wrong – John Lewis is still our favourite store by a mile. We appreciate that shortcuts may have been taken to keep competitive during the downturn, but if they wish to stay on top, now is the time to up the game. Internet competition is a problem for all retailers. Customers however still like to be inspired by creative new design ideas and displays, educated and helped with technology and be excited to see the latest and greatest in innovation. Meeting this need is their best chance of keeping the customers walking through the door.